ALBUQUERQUE – The mayor of New Mexico’s largest city hopes to overcome attacks on his handling of Albuquerque’s scandal-plagued police department and lackluster economic recovery to win a second term on Tuesday.
Mayor Richard Berry is the city’s first Republican mayor in two decades and needs at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
A September poll showed him with a comfortable lead in the city of 555,000. But two Democratic challengers have since stepped up their criticism of his handling of the troubled police department, which is under federal investigation for a series of high-profile cases of abuse and more than two dozen officer-involved shootings since 2010. They also have attacked him for not defending enough a voter-approved minimum wage, the economy and for refusing to speak out against a proposed late-term abortion ban that goes to city voters next month.
According to an Albuquerque Journal poll conducted by Research & Polling, Inc., Berry headed into early voting with a comfortable lead against his challengers, former Deputy City Attorney Pete Dinelli and retired police sergeant Paul Heh. The Sept. 3-5 poll found that Berry with 63 percent of likely voters, while Dinelli had 18 percent and Heh 2 percent.
But pollster Brian Sanderoff told the Journal that would have been a high-water mark for Berry, who paints himself as a non-partisan who is successfully leading the city out of recession.
Since then, Dinelli has been more aggressive in seeking to insert partisanship into the nonpartisan race, highlighting Berry’s connection to the Republican Party in recent debates and taking out television ads from President Obama, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Timothy Krebs, a University of New Mexico political science professor, said he thinks those have little effect on the race.
“Dinelli faces an uphill battle,” Krebs said. “Berry has maintained a strong lead among Republicans and independents. Dinelli needs to unite Democrats and win some (independents) to have a chance.
Krebs also said Berry “stylistically” isn’t threatening to Democratic voters and comes across as confident and has not been blamed for the problems at the police department.
Berry said he’s happy his opponents want to make issues likes public safety a major theme of the campaign, and he’d be proud to run on his record and the city’s drop in crime.
“If you told me four years ago, I had to run on a record with crime at 30-year lows and raising hiring standard at the (police) department, I’d take that,” Berry said.